Saturday, February 28, 2009

But For a Couple of Minutes of Bystander Video

If it wasn't for a couple of minutes of bystander video, Robert Dziekanksi's killing would have been reduced to a few lines in the local papers and quickly forgotten.

I wonder if the cops involved even imagined such video existed when they gave their statements after their victim's lifeless body had been hauled away to the morgue.

The "RCMP story" (curious how those two words have become a term of art here in B.C.) was that the four mounties were acting in self-defence when they Tasered Dziekanski five times, wrestled him into cuffs and left him on the floor, unattended, to die.

In the immediate wake of the killing one of the officers, constable Bentley, gave a statement in which he claimed, "right away [Mr. Dziekanski] started backing up, looking for something to grab. He uses an object and putting that in front of him he kind of swung it at us."

Unfortunately for the officers, the government of Poland is represented at the hearings by a highly-skilled criminal lawyer, Don Rosenbloom. In cross-examination, Rosenbloom confronted Bentley with the video, frame by frame, and dismantled his statement:

Mr. Rosenbloom reviewed for the inquiry the video footage recorded at the scene by passerby Paul Pritchard. Run at slow speed, the video shows one of the four RCMP officers directing Mr. Dziekanski away from the spot where they were all gathered, and in the direction of a counter inside the secured area.

Identified Corporal Benjamin Monty Robinson, the officer had his arm extended. He pointed a gloved index finger.

Mr. Dziekanski is seen throwing his hands up in air, as if in resignation, and walking in the direction as commanded. The four officers then surrounded him.

Const. Bentley's reading of the events: "I interpret [Robinson] as giving him an order. For using body language or pointing to direct him somewhere."

"Precisely," said Mr. Rosenbloom. "He's giving him an order. And the order is for him to move to the counter. Do you not agree?"

Not quite: "I perceive it as him ordering him over to the counter, after he's thrown up his arms and walked away from us... [But] I'm uncertain whether he's complied with that order because his behaviour to me changed before Cpl. Robinson directed his arm to the counter," Const. Bentley said. "So, from what I'm seeing, Cpl. Robinson is reacting to Dziekanski's behaviour."

On it went: Mr. Rosenbloom proposed what seemed obvious; Const. Bentley demurred or deflected. He would not admit that Mr. Dziekanski had correctly complied with the order to move to the counter.

On which sat the stapler. No one had directed Mr. Dziekanski to pick that up, of course. His bad decision was fatal.

But why had Const. Bentley claimed in his initial police statement that, at the moment of first contact with the RCMP, "right away [Mr. Dziekanski] started backing up, looking for something to grab. He uses an object and putting that in front of him he kind of swung it at us."

He conceded that he had not "articulated it the best." He hadn't meant to mislead police homicide investigators in explaining the RCMP's role in the Dziekanski incident.

This simply doesn't wash. They're cops. They've been trained to carefully observe in order to be able to give evidence at trial. We send people to prison every day on the strength of what cops say in court. Yet this cop isn't intending to mislead when he claims it was Dziekanski who chose to move to the counter, who grabbed the stapler and who then swung it at the officers when, as shown on video, he was told to move to the counter and didn't "swing" the stapler at all?

This thing smells like week-old fish guts sitting on the dock. It's no wonder Poland wants to bring proceedings against these cops. They're called "Mounted Police." That doesn't mean they're supposed to be cowboys.

Like NATO, for Vikings

Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Iceland are considering a military defence alliance to defend each other against (Russian) agression in the Arctic region.

The foreign ministers will meet in May to weigh the Nordic Declaration of Solidarity.

University of Calgary political scientist Rob Huebert defended the hoopla the Tories have made of the recent, run of the mill interception of a patrolling Russian bomber by Canadian interceptors.

"Regardless of your view of the Tories, they’re not in charge of the Russian military,” he said. “They’re not the ones down at the Kremlin deploying these aircraft.”

See just what you can learn by going to the University of Calgary? The Harper Tories aren't in charge of the Russian military. Quelle surprise!

Mexico's "Surge"

The Mexican army is having its very own surge. The government has ordered an additional 5,000 soldiers to deploy to the border town of Ciudad Juarez.

Juarez lies just down the road from Las Cruces, New Mexico, just a couple of miles from the American border. The drug gangs have been busy lately killing police officers and forced the local police chief to resign this week.

Mexico's war with the drug cartels is huge, involving 45,000 soldiers and 5,000 federal police across the country. The war was responsible for more than 6,000 deaths last year and has already claimed 900 so far this year.

I am so not riding my motorcycle down there again anytime soon.

Memo to Iggy - Get Back to the Environment

An Ipsos Reid poll finds 57% of Canadians want serious action on climate change now, even if it means higher deficits. From the G&M:

“With the economic recession, it's expected that concern for the environment versus the economy would drop off. Canadians are saying, ‘No, it's still important, the government should still be focusing on the environment even though it has to stabilize the economy,'” said Sean Simpson, research manager at Ipsos Reid.

Across the country, support for environmental policies tends to increase the further one gets from Alberta. The oil-rich province, which has been hurt by the recent fall in commodity prices, is about 10 per cent out of step with the rest of the country on every environmental question, Mr. Simpson said.

Overall, 64 per cent of Canadians say development of Alberta's oil sands should be halted until a clean method can be found, as do 47 per cent of Albertans.

“They're saying maybe we can have the best of both worlds,” Mr. Simpson said. “Maybe instead of creating jobs in the tar sands we can create them in the environmental sector.”

Iggy would do well to remember his own words, "You've got to work with the grain of Canadians and not against them." That applies even when they don't agree with you, Mikey.

CanWest Still Clinging to Life

The governor called. CanWest has been unstrapped from the table and returned to its cell.

Bloomberg reports that CanWest has been given an extension to March 11 to renegotiate some of its debts.

Crocodile Tears, Please - Lawyers Fall Victim to Recession!

I know there are a lot of eager law students among the ranks of Liberal and Conservative bloggers. I also know the legal profession isn't immune to the effects of severe recession. I'm sure bankruptcy lawyers are doing great and matrimonial and criminal lawyers are probably doing just fine but this is a pretty grim time for a lot of corporate lawyers, especially the solicitors.

One of America's largest law firms, Latham & Watkins, has announced it's shedding 190-lawyers and 250-paralegals and support staff. Now, to keep that in perspective, remember that L&W has 270-lawyers in Washington alone and 2,000 world wide. Still, a 10% cut this early in the recession, leaves one to imagine what lies ahead?

Galloway Slams Afghanisnam

He was one of the most esteemed reporters of the Vietnam war. He was one of the main characters in the book and movie, "We Were Soldiers Once." Joe Galloway is still a war correspondent, for McClatchey Newspapers.

Galloway finds that the ongoing war in Afghanistan is beginning to resemble the war he knew three decades ago, the Vietnam war:

Even though Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the Pentagon have scaled back the Bush administration’s lip service to lofty goals such as victory and a democratically elected national government in Afghanistan as the war grows more deadly and dangerous, even that may not be enough of a row back for the Obama people.

The focus is, and ought to be, on neighboring Pakistan, and on how Washington can help steady a shaky new government there that's besieged by homegrown and imported terrorists and by an economic meltdown in a place that already had had plenty of both before the global recession made itself felt.

The new administration wants to know what the end game and the exit strategy will be in Afghanistan before it doubles down on additional forces and commits billions of dollars more in aid for nation building and rebuilding.

The previous administration was seemingly happy to declare Mission Accomplished in Afghanistan after toppling the Taliban government and then starving the necessary conflict there of manpower, machinery and money to focus on its elective war in Iraq. During the long period of neglect, both the Taliban and al Qaida went to work rebuilding in their hideaways across the border in Pakistan’s wild frontier provinces.

The Taliban insurgents now have a chokehold on as much as 70 percent of Afghanistan, and they're proving to be flexible and adaptive in their attacks on American, NATO and Afghan forces.

If the new American team has some new ideas about how to succeed in Afghanistan, now would be the time to lay them out. Nothing that Alexander the Great, Queen Victoria or Leonid Brezhnev tried in their attempts to subdue the quarrelsome Afghan tribes worked, and nothing we’ve tried in the last eight years has, either.

Galloway ends his piece by reciting the first two lines of this old Kipling classic:

When you're left wounded on Afghanistan's plains

And the women come out to cut up what remains

Just roll to your rifle and blow out your brains

And go to your God like a soldier.

As Harper Gets Tough on Pot, Obama Chills

Stephen Harper wants tougher sentences and mandatory imprisonment for growing even a single marijuana plant in a bid to ensure full employment for Canadian prison guards.

Harper's announcement came just a day after Obama's attorney general, Eric Holder, announced federal drug agents would no longer raid medical marijuana dispensaries in places where they're legal under state law.

Quite a few states have either decriminalized simple possession of marijuana or reduced it to a traffic-ticket style misdemeanour. But Stevie's pretty sure that Reefer Madness is a documentary.

So, while Stevie advances his social conservative agenda, Obama is beginning to dismantle George w. Bush's.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Let's See If Iggy Has the Guts to Say "No"

Stephen Harper is exploiting the recent rash of gang violence in the Lower Mainland to revive his rabid, anti-drug legislation. Like most of this ideologically-driven garbage, there are a few parts of it that make sense but a lot that don't.

Growing one up to 200 plants would net a mandatory, six month sentence. One plant? Oh get real. What does he want to do, give a criminal record to an entire generation?

There's nothing in this legislation that's likely to put a dent in gang activity. If anything it would seem to help the gangs out by eliminating competition among pot growers.

If Harper wanted to deal a blow to the gangs, the best way would be to decriminalize small scale growing and possession of marijuana. But he'd rather take the route that's been proven ineffective time and time again.

Don't worry about a rash of new prisoners. Public Obedience Minister Peter van Loan says there's plenty of spare room going to waste in existing Canadian prisons. "We have capacity in our prisons right now. They are not in the overcrowded situations you might see south of the border,” Van Loan told Canwest News Service.

Close Your Eyes and Think of England

Mike Ignatieff has enshrined the Athabasca Tar Sands as the glue that holds our cherished country together. Iggy told an Edmonton Chamber of Commerce lunch crowd that the TAR Sands are a national unity issue.

From the Conservative Television Network:

"The oilsands are an integral part of the future of Canada," he said. "No other country in the word would toss away this advantage."

Iggy said he supports hard caps on greenhouse gas emissions so long as they're not hard enough to bother Big Oil churning up the Athabasca basin.

...he said that the federal government must negotiate any cap-and-trade system with the oil industry.

"We will be watching in Opposition to make sure (a cap-and-trade system) won't hurt Alberta," he said. "We need to work with the industry, and not against the industry."

Good one, Iggy. All those folks in the Oil Patch are terrified the Conservatives are going to hurt Alberta. C'mon, who writes this guy's jokes?

So, there we have it. Michael Ignatieff is all in favour of hard caps on greenhouse gas emissions so long as they don't really inconvenience anyone such as major emitters.

At least Jean Chretien talked out of just one side of his mouth.

Quick, the Economy's Tanking - Send In the Russians!

Golly. Steve Harper really is standing on guard for we. Just when Obama showed up in Ottawa, a couple of Ruskkie bombers strayed into international airspace and Steve sent'em packing.

"We will defend our airspace," a resolute Harper told someone who could be bothered to listen.

Harp's little soldier, DefMin Peter MacKay chimed in, "It's not a game."

Sorry Pete, but that's exactly what it is - a game. The very same game that's been played out between NORAD and the Russians for decades. And, yes, just like every other government before you guys, we sent up interceptors to - well, to intercept the bombers and then they headed home.

So what's the big deal about this incident? How about nothing, nada, zip, squat. Harp just saw a chance to pretend like he had muscles and an all too willing media and so he took it.

Now will somebody let MacKay in on it. It's a game Pete, a game.

Iggy Wants Harper's Job - Both of Them

Michael Ignatieff wants to be the next prime minister of Canada. Yeah! He also wants to be the next conservative prime minister of Canada. Boo!

As Chantal Hebert put it in the Toronto Star:

Since he has become leader, he has talked a good game about building bridges to a host of natural conservative constituencies but said very little about maintaining those that link the Liberal party to more progressive ones.

Ignatieff talks about the need to make up for years of Liberal neglect, but it is really his party's stance on some of the very issues that have distinguished the Liberals from Conservatives over the past decade – like Iraq, climate change and same-sex marriage – that have kept away many of the voters he is so determined to court.

This guy has to make a choice - start acting like a Liberal or come out of the neo-conservative closet.

h/t 1 Anxious Liberal

Michael in NeverLand - Athabasca and Other Tarry Tall Tales

There's a reason I don't trust Michael Ignatieff or Stephen Harper or Ed Stelmach or the Oil Patch when they talk about cleaning up the Athabasca Tar Sands - it's because I was a parent so I know better.

Most of us are familiar with this scenario. The young teenager has left her bedroom in an awful mess. You find her watching a favourite TV show. You ask her to clean her room and she says she'll get right on to it. An hour later you find her still before the TV watching some other show. That's when what started as a request turns into a command and, like all commands, it comes with a time limit and an "or else."

Get your room clean in 15-minutes or else you won't be going out with your friends on Friday. Now that usually results in a clean bedroom because you've stipulated a time for performance and a meaningful consequence for non-performance.

How many years have we been fed empty promises by the Oil Patch that they'll be cleaning up their room in Athabasca any day now? Many, many years. And how many Tar Sands projects have actually been cleaned up?

Without a meaningful time stipulation and an effective "or else" consequence, the Ignatieff/Harper/Stelmach/Oil Patch promise of a clean Athabasca is about as convincing as that robot call I get around dinner time telling me I've just won a fabulous holiday cruise.

So why is the Ignatieff-Harper-Stelmach clan so unwilling to take these modest measures? They haven't got the guts to even speak the "or else" part but it's the time stipulation that really bothers them. With international pressure building for a new carbon reduction scheme and the supporting climate change science pouring in almost daily, nobody wants to admit that the technology has never been shown to be workable much less economically viable and, even if it was, there would be the standard 20-30 year lag time before a functioning sequestration system could be implemented. Global warming is happening. We don't have 20-30 years to solve Athabasca.

These clowns may be happy living in NeverLand, I'm not.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Will Pakistan Collapse?

There's not much right happening in Pakistan but no end of wrong.

In December the Pentagon reported that Pakistan and Mexico were in danger of sudden and total collapse.

The last thing Pakistan needed was the Supreme Court decision Wednesday that the leader of the opposition and his brother could not stand for election. That triggered riots and violence in Punjab, Pakistan's most populous and prosperous province, causing the governor to impose a form of martial law for two months.

The ousted Sharif brothers wasted no time blaming President Asif Ali Zardari for conspiring against them. The court decision could easily undo Zardari's ruling coalition.

Pakistan's political instability is compounded by the government's truce with Taliban forces. The West has heard all about the peace agreement in the Swat valley. What's gone largely unnoticed is what Asia Times describes as "ceasefires all across the tribal areas and the formation of a united Pakistani tribal front of mujahideen to reinforce the Taliban's battle in Afghanistan."

If this is true it would seem that Pakistan has given the Taliban free rein throughout the border region with Afghanistan. The longer Pakistan remains beset with political chaos the better it serves the interests of the Taliban.

The wild card in this mess is the Pakistan military. How much longer will the generals tolerate this before they move in to take over? Unfortunate as that would be, it might be the best thing for Afghanistan, NATO, the US - and Pakistan.

CIA Now Briefing Obama on Global Meltdown

It's not just about terrorism or nuclear proliferation any more. Now the Central Intelligence Agency is also briefing president Obama on potentially dangerous fallout from the global financial meltdown. From McClatchey News:

The CIA this week began sending the White House a new classified daily briefing on the worldwide economic crisis, CIA Director Leon Panetta said Wednesday, underscoring growing concern that the global financial meltdown could topple governments or lead to sharp swerves in the foreign policies of hard-hit nations.

The report for President Barack Obama and other top officials, called the Economic Intelligence Brief, is an effort "to make sure that we aren't surprised by the implications of the worldwide economic crisis," Panetta said in his first meeting with reporters since being sworn in Feb. 13.
"It's beginning to have impacts not only in China and . . . countries throughout Europe," but also increasingly in Latin America, where there are fresh signs of economic instability, Panetta said. He specifically cited Argentina, Ecuador and Venezuela.

Great, with everything else destabilizing the world - climate change, overpopulation, fundamentalism, nuclear proliferation - now we get to add Wall Street to the mix.

The Taliban Make Nice? Really?

There is no such thing as a "stalemate" in guerrilla warfare.

That overly generous term is being used by the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan to describe the state of affairs between Afghan, US and NATO forces and the Taliban.

Why can there be no stalemate? Because of the time factor. As the insurgents say, we have all the watches but they have all the time. They have nowhere else to go, they can simply wait us out.

There's a stalemate only in the sense that neither side is capable of a military victory over the other but that reflects a totally false view that this is a military war rather than a political war. It ignores the fact that the insurgents are on the offensive, not us. Every now and then they get a breakaway and go on to demolish a prison or blow up an embassy or storm a government ministry.

Now, negotiating from strength, the Taliban have announced they want peace with the Afghan people. From the National Toast:

The Taliban are willing to work with all Afghan groups to achieve peace, but the problems of Afghanistan can only be solved if foreign troops withdraw from the country, a senior insurgent leader said.

The Taliban have made a strong come-back in the last three years, extending the scale and scope of their insurgency across the south and east and up to the fringes of the Afghan capital.

"We would like to take an Afghan strategy that is shared and large-scale, in consultation with all the Afghan groups, to reach positive and fruitful results," Mullah Mutassim, a former Taliban finance minister and member of the group's political council, told al-Samoud magazine in an interview conducted on Feb. 25.
But, he said, the United States "has to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan as soon as possible, because the real starter of crises and complication of matters is the presence of foreign forces in the country.

"If these forces leave, the problem will be over, the question will be finished, and peace will prevail," he was quoted as saying in the interview translated by the U.S.-based Site Intelligence Group which monitors jihadi web sites.

Mutassim is regarded as close to fugitive Taliban chief Mullah Mohammad Omar.

The Taliban are clearly using their newfound power to outmanoeuvre us. They know the Afghan people are turning against the Western forces and their hopelessly corrupt central government. They know the Afghans want the insurgency/civil war ended at almost all costs. The Taliban know that, with an election looming in August, they have an ideal opportunity to influence the vote - and the Karzai government.

Where we failed to take the opportunity as far back as 2002 to drive a wedge between the Taliban and the al-Qaeda terrorists, the Taliban are now in a position to drive a wedge between the Afhgan people and the Western backed-Karzai government. That's the ultimate strategy of any insurgency.

This could pay huge dividends for the Taliban and there's nothing we can do about it, nothing.

Mulroney Takes a Hit

Brian Mulroney has failed in a bid to defang the inquiry into his dealings with Karlheinz Schreiber in the Airbus affair. The inquiry is scheduled to commence at the end of next month.

Mulroney's lawyers brought a motion before the inquiry chair, Associate Chief Justice Jeffrey Oliphant of Manitoba's Court of Queen's Bench seeking a ruling that the inquiry could not use the Criminal Code of Canada in assessing the former prime minister's conduct. The motion was rejected.

“I intend to determine, on an objective basis, whether Mr. Mulroney ... conformed with the highest standards of conduct,” the judge wrote.
“I believe that this standard is one that reflects the importance to Canadian democracy of the office of the prime minister, as well as the public trust reposed in the integrity, objectivity and impartiality of public office holders.”

The judge also pointed out that in 1988 Mr. Mulroney distributed a document to his cabinet titled Guidance For Ministers that warned them they had an obligation to go further than “simply to observe the law.”

Yesterday, Judge Oliphant ruled: “If the Prime Minister intended to hold ministers personally accountable to that level, then it follows that he himself would be accountable on the same basis.”

This ruling, while adverse to Mulroney, doesn't mean that the Oliphant inquiry will be any freewheeling review of the facts, particularly the link between the Air Canada Airbus purchase and the former prime minister.

The belief that Mulroney had no personal interest in the Airbus affair was based, in part, on exculpatory testimony by former Mulroney aide Fred Doucette. When he appeared before the Commons ethics committee, Doucette proclaimed, under oath, that he had nothing whatsoever to do with the Airbus business. Shortly afterward Schreiber released a raft of documents strongly suggesting that Mr. Doucette was directly involved in the Airbus deal.

The Globe & Mail reports that Schreiber, meanwhile, has dropped his lawsuit against Mulroney in which he claimed the former p.m. did nothing to earn the cash that changed hands between them. Schreiber has said he dropped the lawsuit rather than reveal documents that he'd rather present directly to Judge Oliphant during the inquiry.

The best thing Brian Mulroney may have going for him at this point is observer fatigue. We're on our fourth prime minister since these events happened. A lot of people think everything has been investigated, all the evidence has been examined. Too bad.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Next Great Liberal Leader?

This is a repost from March of last year. I'd put this issue aside while I waited for Dion to play out his hand and Iggy to prove his mettle. We've seen how those two turned out.

I fear for the future of the Liberal Party as I've known it for more than four decades. That's why I'm going to make this pitch again. This is, in my opinion, the person to restore the Liberal Party of Canada to what we knew it to be.

To me, Stephane Dion has been a total disappointment. Unfortunately, Bob Rae and Michael Ignatieff didn't really inspire me much either.

The Liberal Party needs someone to put some life back into it and that has to be someone truly exceptional, someone not just Liberals but other Canadians can also rally behind, someone like Louise Arbour.

I can think of no finer person than Louise Arbour to be the next leader of the Liberal Party of Canada and this country's first, elected woman prime minister.

Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, war crimes prosecutor at the International Court of Justice, United Nations High Commissioner for human rights - I don't know anyone else in this country with credentials like that.

LouiseArbour is a known quantity. Her career speaks for itself. Intellect, integrity, experience, reputation - she's got it all and as much or more of it than anyone else. Her kind doesn't come along very often, sometimes it takes decades. We're fools if we don't at least try to bring Louise Arbour into the top ranks of our party.

Anybody for a "Draft Arbour" Movement?

I've never been more convinced that the future of the Liberal Party of Canada is nowhere near as robust as we might like to imagine and hinges directly on getting another "great" leader very, very soon.

I'd hoped that might be Michael Ignatieff but he's shown me wrong.

That brings me back to my previous favourite, the one person I know who has the intellect and character to be one of the once-in-a-generation great leaders, Louise Arbour.

Read the post following this and you'll see a glimpse of what I see in this woman and why she's what this Party needs. I'm not sure she'd go for it even if she was seriously asked but tell me someone who'd be better.

Your Daily Laugh

The world and the Liberal Party of Canada are going to hell in a handbasket. Might as well pause of a giggle:

Why the sun lightens our hair, but darkens our skin?

Why women can't put on mascara with their mouth closed?

Why don't you ever see the headline 'Psychic Wins Lottery'?

Why is 'abbreviated' such a long word?

Why is it that doctors name what they do 'practice' ?

Why is lemon juice made with artificial flavor, and dishwashing liquid made with real lemons?

Why is the man who invests all your money called a broker?

Why is the time of day with the slowest traffic called rush hour?

Why isn't there mouse-flavored cat food?

Why didn't Noah swat those two mosquitoes?

Why do they sterilize the needle for lethal injections?

You know that indestructible black box that is used on airplanes? Why don't they make the whole plane out of that stuff?!

Why don't sheep shrink when it rains?

Why are they called apartments when they are all stuck together?

If con is the opposite of pro, is Congress the opposite of progress?

If flying is so safe, why do they call the airport the terminal?

Tories Move To Protect West Coast Orca?

Word has it that the Harper government is going to order the protection of the "critical habitat" required for the recovery of two endangered killer whale pods in British Columbia.

We'll have to wait for another week or so to learn just what Jim Prentice and Fisheries minister Gail Shea are really prepared to do but it's encouraging to hear they've come to realize the problem. From the Victoria Times Colonist:

Ecojustice lawyer Lara Tessaro said she expects the March 4 publication to include a regulatory impact analysis statement, including costs and benefits of the order, from which the public “can glean DFO’s commitment to enforcing this order.”
Environmentalists note the whales are threatened by declining salmon stocks, increased boat traffic, toxic contamination, and acoustic impacts from activities such as dredging, seismic testing, and military sonar.

“Obviously whales need salmon, whales need clean water, and they also need quiet,” Barlee said. “That’s part of critical habitat. We need a comprehensive approach.”

Ottawa is scheduled to release an action plan within the next four years. That’s where negotiations involving various levels of government and stakeholders, including scientists and commercial fishermen, will face some tough decisions to allow for recovery of the whales.

The situation is complicated by the fact a whale’s habitat is the water column, not a stand of trees necessary, say, for the survival of a bird or mammal.

I hope, in a week or so, I can actually congratulate a Tory for finally doing something right. Until then I'm not going to get my hopes up.

Dziekanski Died Because Mounties Wouldn't Use Mace

Another day another story about how four mounties were messing their drawers when they encountered Robert Dziekanski at Vancouver airport.

Four fit cops, wearing ballistic vests and the standard kit every officer carries, were scared witless by an unarmed, middle aged, clearly distressed little man.

Constable Gerry Rundel told the inquiry today that he believed Dziekanski had "every intention" of harming the four officers. This must be a very dark and frightening world for poor constable Rundel.

Here's one thing to remember. In addition to their all-too-often lethal Tasers those cops carried utterly non-lethal pepper spray. If those sissies really believed Dziekanski needed to be subdued and couldn't find among their eight arms two strong enough to do the job, they could have maced the guy.

So why did they choose the Taser over the mace? Because an airline rep told them that a load of passengers was due to pass through that arrival lounge in a little while.

That's why the cops rushed the guy, why they gave him five jolts from their Taser. They were in a hurry to take out the trash.

"The Answer To All of This is Technology"

That's Harpo EnviroMin Jim Prentice's way of dismissing the environmental catastrophe we call the Athabasca Tar Sands. Just add a heaping helping of technology, fold in the Tar Sands, whip furiously and - voila, Clean Energy Forever.

Prentice is in good company. Interim Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff is totally onside with the technology fix scam. Nothing wrong with the Tar Sands that a bunch of technology won't solve. Clean Energy Forever! We Love U, Alberta, we really love you. Sure, that technology fix, even if it can be developed, is at the least twenty and more likely thirty years off, but that's just a pesky detail. Onward and upward!

Iggy got a bit miffed when confronted with the well-balanced National Geographic article on the Tar Sands. He puffed himself up and set the reporters straight, ""National Geographic is not going to teach me any lessons about the oilsands."

Well that's too f__cking bad Iggy because somebody has to. But, then again, nobody teaches Mr. Ignatieff anything.
h/t LeDaro

Octomom's Million Dollar Gig

Nadya Suleman has been offered a million bucks to star in a porn flick. An Associated Press story appearing in the Sydney Morning Herald, says Vivid Entertainment has also offered to throw in a year's health care insurance to sweeten the deal.

Suleman has just finished taping two shows for Dr. Phil. What a surprise.

Wheels Spinning Within Wheels

One reason we're not going to win in Afghanistan is that, even if we could, it wouldn't matter much to the destiny of this failed state.

Afghanistan's troubles are myriad. They're tribal, ethnic, national, regional, even international. Like it or not, Afghanistan is a football that's being booted about by the United States, NATO, China, Russia, India, Iran and, of course, Pakistan. In this context the Taliban and Islamist extremists are mere chump change.

India is playing Afghanistan to get at Pakistan. China is playing Pakistan and Afghanistan to get at India. Russia is playing Afghanistan to get at the United States.

If you want to get a sense of the confusion and contradiction in the Great Game now being played out in Afghanistan, read this article from Asia Times Online:

The Associate Prime Minister of Canada

I'm beginning to get the feeling that Barack Obama has become the Associate Prime Minister of Canada.
From what we've seen from Harper and his cabinet, they'll definitely be taking their cues from the president on a host of issues, especially environmental and trade issues. And it looks as though Obama is going to be the one politician who'll tell Special Ed Stelmach to clean up the Tar Sands or else.
Given that Canadians seem to have vastly more confidence in Obama's leadership than anything on offer at home, maybe having an associate prime minister isn't all that bad.
Speaking of associate prime ministers, the other one, Liberal interim leader Michael Ignatieff, was featured in The Guardian today. Here's a sample of Michael Sticking's take on the Liberal challenger:
With an air of haughty detachment, an arrogant sense of entitlement to leadership, limited charisma, Bush-friendly positions on key foreign policy issues, hardly any record on (and relatively little knowledge of) social and economic issues and next to no experience in the political trenches, Ignatieff is hardly the saviour so many Liberals delusionally think he is.
...Today's Canada is very much Trudeau's Canada, the Canada of Trudeau's vision, for better and for worse. Trudeau was, like Ignatieff, an intellectual, but, unlike Ignatieff, he obviously cared deeply about this country and sought to leave his mark on it, which he did. Ignatieff may feel "passionately and proudly Canadian", and there may be a bold vision behind his egotism, somewhere, but he has a lot to prove before he should be considered anything more than an opportunist, if not a self-absorbed charlatan.

Remember - Work Kills

The list of maladies related to excessive working is long and comprehensive. Stress, ulcers, heart attacks are just a few. New research is showing that working long hours increases a person's risk of dimentia.

The Finnish-led study was based on analysis of 2,214 middle-aged British civil servants.

It found that those working more than 55 hours a week had poorer mental skills than those who worked a standard working week.

The American Journal of Epidemiology study found hard workers had problems with short-term memory and word recall.

Lead researcher Dr Marianna Virtanen, from the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, said: "The disadvantages of overtime work should be taken seriously."

It is not known why working long hours might have an adverse effect on the brain.

However, the researchers say key factors could include increased sleeping problems, depression, an unhealthy lifestyle and a raised risk of cardiovascular disease, possibly linked to stress.

...The effects were cumulative, the longer the working week was the worse the test results were
Employees with long working hours also had shorter sleeping hours, reported more symptoms of depression and used more alcohol than those with normal working hours.

The Abstinence Scam

Texas has one of America's highest rates of teen pregnancy. It also receives more than any other state in federal assistance for abstinence programmes.

Now a damning report blasts Texas high schools for neglecting sex education.

The overwhelming majority of Texas schools use scare tactics and spread myths in place of teaching basic sex and health information that students can use to protect themselves and others, according to a report released Wednesday by watchdog group Texas Freedom Network.

TFN's two-year study of education materials from 990 Texas school districts showed that about 94 percent of public schools use abstinence-only programs that usually pass moral judgments while either downplaying or ignoring contraception and health screenings.

Two percent ignore sex education, according to the report, written by David Wiley, professor of health education at Texas State University, and Kelly Wilson, assistant professor of health education at Texas State.

They put much of the blame on school administrators' fear of controversy and religious groups that teach that sex is shameful.

Texas continues to have one of the nation's highest teen pregnancy rates despite receiving more federal abstinence funding than any other state.

Atmospheric CO2 Could Last A Millenium

Until recently it was thought that CO2 emitted into the atmosphere lasted maybe a century or two before it was reabsorbed either into the sea or plant life or some other sink. From McClatchey Newspapers:

David Archer, a leading climate researcher who teaches at the University of Chicago, has written a new book that looks at carbon dioxide's "long tail" and what it means for changes on Earth in the future.

If the world continues its heavy use of coal over the next couple of hundred years until it's essentially used up, it would take several centuries more for the oceans to absorb about three-quarters of the carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere. In those centuries, there would be a "climate storm" that Archer says would be significantly worse than the forecast from now to 2100.

The remaining carbon dioxide — the long tail — would stay in the atmosphere for thousands of years, leaving a warmer climate. About 10 percent of it would still be in the atmosphere in 100,000 years, Archer wrote in "The Long Thaw: How Humans Are Changing the Next 100,000 Years of Earth's Climate."

Because of the long life of CO2 from fossil fuels, the climate impacts would last for many thousands of years. Ice sheets would melt, raising seas high enough to swamp 10 percent or more of the world's agricultural land. Other climate impacts could include uncomfortable heat and drier continental interiors, Archer tells his readers. "In the long run, it could be a steep price to pay for a century or so of fossil fuel energy."

Save Bucks - Abolish Capital Punishment

And that's just what's happening in various parts of the United States. The hard economics of death penalty cases is coming home to roost in cash-strapped states. They're coming to realize it's a losing proposition - for the state. From The New York Times:

When Gov. Martin O’Malley appeared before the Maryland Senate last week, he made an unconventional argument that is becoming increasingly popular in cash-strapped states: abolish the death penalty to cut costs.

Lawmakers in Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska and New Hampshire have made the same argument in recent months as they push bills seeking to repeal the death penalty, and experts say such bills have a good chance of passing in Maryland, Montana and New Mexico.

Capital cases are expensive because the trials tend to take longer, they typically require more lawyers and more costly expert witnesses, and they are far more likely to lead to multiple appeals.
In New Mexico, lawmakers who support the repeal bill have pointed out that despite the added expense, most defendants end up with life sentences anyway.

That has been true in Maryland. A 2008 study by the Urban Institute, a nonpartisan public policy group, found that in the 20 years after the state reinstated the death penalty in 1978, prosecutors sought the death penalty in 162 felony-homicide convictions, securing it in 56 cases, most of which were overturned; the rest of the convictions led to prison sentences.

Since 1978, five people have been executed in Maryland, and five inmates are on death row.

The paper reports that a lot of states are beginning to lose their appetite for jailing swarms of non-violent offenders too.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Shuffling the Deck - Canadian Foreign Aid

The Harper government is shortening the list of beneficiaries of Canadian foreign aid. Without explaining the rationale on which the Harpies cut the winners from the losers, the new focus will be on Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bolivia, the Caribbean, Colombia, Ethiopia, Ghana, Haiti, Honduras, Indonesia, Mali, Mozambique, Pakistan, Peru, Senegal, Sudan, Tanzania, Ukraine, Vietnam and the West Bank/Gaza.

International Co-operation Minister, "Odious Bev" Oda said the idea is to get the greatest bang for Canada's buck rather than handing out dribs and drabs to many needy states.

This could be an excellent opportunity to restructure Canada's foreign aid along, let's say, environmental lines. After all, we're per capita next only to the US in carbon emissions and anthropogenic global warming is already afflicting a number of nations, particularly in the Sahel. So why don't we take half the money and send it to the global warming victims of our excess and leave the other half to help innocent victims of war in places like Darfur, the Congo, Afghanistan and West Bank/Gaza.

It just seems to me if we're trashing peoples' livelihoods in far off lands, the least we can do is give them first dibs on our foreign aid assistance.

Which One Will Be the Next Prime Minister of Canada?

Steve - or - Mike?

Get Over It - Electing Obama Ended Racism in the US

Really, that's the gist of Raphael Alexander's piece in today's National Toast defending the New York Post cartoon depicting a monkey, lying on the sidewalk dead from gunshot wounds, as President Obama. Raphe says it's time to get over that silly old racism nonsense;

...they can unify in enough numbers to elect a black President [or half-black, or whatever you wish to call him], but they can’t let go of the racial sensitivity that has marked their long history of friction between whites and blacks. The best example of sensitivity turned to insanity has been during this whole “chimp cartoon” flap, and the resultant fallout that is reminiscent of the prophet Muhammad cartoons.

I guess from his perch in comfy Vancouver, Alexander hasn't noticed what's still going on in the American south. Maybe he didn't hear about New Orleans or its black communities. There was an article on the weekend about a resurgence of the KKK.

Alexander betrays his abject ignorance of the condition of many African Americans in not grasping that the term "monkey" is a racial perjorative used to denigrate blacks in today's America. Instead he dismisses this as an historical anecdote. Besides, aren't we all descended from apes?

There’s even an evolutionary correlation that is even more apparent, and important here. Most adults who aren’t devout in their faith will probably admit to the fact that humans evolved from hominids, and our closest genetic ancestors are chimpanzees [96% similar actually] so there is a cultural paradigm to referencing lower primates and human beings. Nobody wants to be seen as a lower primate, which is primarily why George W Bush was referred to as the “smirking chimp”. Calling a black person a chimp is seen as more offensive only because of the historical associations of racism.

Raphael, stick to something you understand, at least even vaguely. There must be something else you can mine out of the Vancouver olympics.

Oh Good, We Got a Book! "How to Fix Afghanistan"

Canada's defence department has just issued its very own, 241-page, counterinsurgency manual. From the National Toast:

A compendium of modern military thinking informed by colonial misadventures and successes, the manual calls for a co-ordinated attack by both political and military forces. "Insurgency is a political problem," reads the introduction. "The mere attrition of insurgents is highly unlikely to result in [their] defeat."

Though the manual urges troops to reject Western absolute values, uses postmodern words such as "meme" and "heuristic," and likens insurgencies to communicable diseases, such approaches are commonly advocated in defence circles, said Prof. Hoffman, a former advisor to U. S. Army Chief of Staff George Casey when he was commanding general in Iraq.

The book also features citations that range from Greek historian Herodotus to Mao Zedong to Black Hawk Down author Mark Bowden.
Prof. Hoffman, whom the book references, said that several allies have already produced similar manuals with much of the same philosophies, most recently the United States.

Now there's a breakthrough. Insurgency is a "political problem." So, tanks and artillery barrages and airstrikes really don't do the trick, eh? Quelle surprise!

Like its U. S. counterpart, Counter-insurgency Operations takes issue with the conventional notions of the victors and the vanquished. "Military forces do not defeat insurgencies; instead they create the security conditions necessary for the political resolution of the conflict," it says.

And how do they "create the security conditions necessary for a political resolution of the conflict"? They do it by securing the local population from the insurgents. That means flooding the countryside with enough troops to keep the insurgents from infiltrating the villages and imposing their will on the populace. That means lots and lots of troops. That means not hunkering down in garrisons. That means doing everything that we're not doing because we don't have more than a tiny fraction of the force required in Kandahar province.

Understanding the root of the grievance, Prof. Hoffman says, helps the military separate the enemy combatants who are fighting for ideology, or those who signed up for money. "You identify and isolate the extremists, and bolster the moderates."

A common pitfall, it explains, imposing one's own values on others. "Such an assumption and situation risks creating or exacerbating the perception that foreigners are trying to impose values and beliefs at odds with those of the indigenous population."

Foreigners? Who, us? We're not foreigners in Afghanistan, we're aliens. We're ethnically different, culturally different, socially different, linguistically different, religiously different, economically different, technologically different and politically different. We're pretty much everything that's not them. Yet we went in there expecting them to embrace secular democracy and our notion of human rights. Brilliant!

And then there's this closing bit of wisdom from the article.

It also cautions against demonizing or delegitimizing one's foes as thugs, a time-honoured mistake made by former U. S. secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld and others. "The classification or dismissal of a nascent insurgency as a criminal or some other movement will only fuel the insurgency through inappropriate responses," it warns.

Hmm. Remember the guy who brokered our combat mission to Kandahar, General Rick Hillier? Remember who he described the mission as going into the province to "kill scumbags?" That seems to have set the tone for troops and commanders who went there. I guess Rick hadn't read the memo.

A Setback in the Fight Against Global Warming

Nine years of work to fight global warming is sitting on the bottom of the Antarctic ocean today. NASA's Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO) failed to reach orbit after launch yesterday.

OCO was supposed to map carbon dioxide emissions around the world. It was to measure carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and where it was being absorbed.

Wanted - Cops With Guts

Four fit, young men equipped with ballistic vests and mace versus an out of shape, middle aged guy who's plainly stressed out. With those odds, it's fair to expect cops to be able to subdue the guy (if even that was truly necessary) without resort to deadly force.

The inquiry into the death of Robert Dziekanski has heard from the first of the four officers that he "was fearful" of the traveller when the cops descended on him at Vancouver airport. What made him so petrified of Dziekanski? Why the guy had the temerity to raise his hands, something that apparently struck fear into the heart of RCMP constable Gerry Rundel.

The witness went on to say that, "it's resistant behaviour where he directly disregarded a command," and he was trained that, when a individual becomes resistant, it's time to whip out the Taser.

RCMP spokesman, Sgt. Tim Shields offered this. "Of course this is a tragedy for everyone involved . Those officers will gladly do things differently if they could bring Mr. Dziekanski back." Guess what, Tim? That's not going to happen, they killed the man, he's not coming back.
Four of your guys, Tim, had to go for the Tasers to subdue a guy who hadn't even taken a swing at them.

Anyone who's watched the video knows these guys had no reason to Taser Dziekanski, not once and certainly not five times. At the end of the day I think it comes down to bad training, bad judgment and four gutless cops. Do we need mounties like this? Does the RCMP?

Monday, February 23, 2009

Americans of All Stripes Rally Behind Obama - Republicans Look Like Losers

The Republicans gambled that blind opposition to Obama's stimulus/recovery plans would pay off - and it backfired. From The New York Times:

A majority of people surveyed in both parties said Mr. Obama was striving to work in a bipartisan way, but most Americans faulted Republicans for their response to the president, saying the party had objected to the $787 billion economic stimulus plan for political reasons. Most Americans said Mr. Obama should pursue the priorities he campaigned on, the poll found, rather than seek middle ground with Republicans.

Americans are under no illusions that the country’s problems will be resolved quickly, but the [New York Times/CBS] poll suggested they would be particularly patient when it comes to the economy, with most saying it would be years before there was significant improvement.

A month into Mr. Obama’s term, with his first big accomplishments, setbacks and political battles behind him, more than three-quarters of Americans said they are optimistic about the next four years with him as president. Similar percentages said they think he is bringing real change to the way things are done in Washington and that they have confidence in his ability to make the right decisions about the economy.

Obama reached his hand out to the Republicans - and they tried to bite it off. Tried, but didn't succeed.

Another Free Market Fix Fails - Carbon Trading

It was a nice idea. Bring the free market and environmentalism together and let them solve global warming through - carbon trading.

The idea is that major emitters are given a carbon emissions quota. If they don't meet that quota, they're allowed to sell (trade) the surplus. If they exceed their quota, they can avoid fines and penalties by purchasing unused quotas from cleaner companies.

The cap and trade scheme treats carbon as a commodity of trade and it works, sort of, except for one little snag - any commodity price can plummet. From The Guardian:

All this only works as the carbon price lifts. As with 1924 Ch√Ęteau Lafite or Damian Hirst's diamond skulls, scarcity and speculation create the value. If permits are cheap, and everyone has lots, the green incentive crashes into reverse. As recession slashes output, companies pile up permits they don't need and sell them on. The price falls, and anyone who wants to pollute can afford to do so. The result is a system that does nothing at all for climate change but a lot for the bottom lines of mega-polluters such as the steelmaker Corus: industrial assistance in camouflage.

"I don't know why industrials would miss this opportunity," said one trader last week. "They are using it to compensate for the tightening of credit and the slowdown, to pay for redundancies."

A lot of the blame lies with governments that signed up to carbon trading as a neat idea, but then indulged polluters with luxurious quantities of permits. The excuse was that growth would soon see them bumping against the ceiling.

Instead, exchanges are in meltdown: a tonne of carbon has dropped to about €8, down from last year's summer peak of €31 and far below the €30-€45 range at which renewables can compete with fossil fuels.

Like medieval pardoners handing out unlimited indulgences, governments have created a glut. Reformation must follow. Wanted - a modern Martin Luther to nail a shaming truth to industry's door: Europe's whizz-bang carbon market is turning sub-prime.

Lorne Gunter Has His Eye On The Future

Lorne Gunter, loudmouth columnist with the National Toast, flagship of the soon to be defunct CanWest media circus, has written a piece on how to enjoy life on a lot less during this recession. I wonder if Grunter's been pondering his own future:

If we're not eating out as much, perhaps we're eating home more often, maybe even as families.
Sure you can talk together as a family over some spinach and artichoke dip and a thin-crust, brick-oven pizza at a restaurant. But without all the noise and clatter and would-you-like-fresh-ground-pepper-with-that interruptions, you might chat together even more.

You might have to dust off your playing cards and board games rather than hurrying to stand in line at the neighbourhood megaplex to see a movie no one is really happy to see, but which everyone has compromised on. (I make way better popcorn than those high school concession workers at the theatre, anyway.)

Maybe your vacation this summer will involve driving your van further than the airport park-and-ride. Maybe it will involve camping at a nearby provincial park or setting up in your cousins' backyard (provided the cousins don't object, mind you). You may have to be more Clark Griswold than Paris Hilton when planning your summer getaway.

My parents saved up for three or four years for good road-trip vacations --Expo '67, Disneyland--but in between we made do with sites closer to home. The vacation we still talk about the most was the camping trip to Saskatchewan's 1971 Homecoming. We have more funny, shared stories from that summer than any other.

Read a book. Read a newspaper (please, read a newspaper). Invite the next door neighbours over for burgers on the deck. Go for a walk instead of a workout. Rediscover the joy and excitement in conversation.

Relearning to appreciate the simple things -- playing with the box prosperity came in -- can be the silver lining in austere times.

Good advice for anyone facing the pinch in this recession, from a guy who should know.

UnDemonizing Iran

Doug Saunders has an excellent op-ed piece in today's G&M detailing how Bush rejected a comprehensive peace offer from Iran, undermined a moderate leader and left the way open for a rabid radical, Ahmadinejad.

Saunders points out that the path to peace with Iran begins when we stop demonizing it:

The pro-American demonstrations, by all reports genuine (and unpunished), took place over several days in 2003. In that spring, Mr. Khatami sent a Swiss official to Washington to make the peace offer. In exchange for recognizing Israel, cutting off Hamas and proving it had abolished any nuclear-weapons plans, Iran wanted an end to sanctions, normal diplomatic relations with the U.S. and recognition of its role in the region.

So what happened? Well, nothing. George W. Bush was president, the Iraq war was just approaching the "mission accomplished" phase, and nobody in the White House thought it would look good to make peace with Iran, a country that only the year before had been made a rhetorical component in Mr. Bush's "axis of evil."

As one State Department official directly involved with the Iranian offer told me, "It was like we missed the biggest Middle East peace opportunity of the decade, just so we could keep saying 'axis of evil.' "

So the offer was stuck in a drawer. That diplomatic snub was one of several humiliations, diplomatic and economic, that led to the defeat of Mr. Khatami's reformists in subsequent elections and the victory of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's neo-conservative zealots. Mission accomplished, indeed.

A friendly relationship with Iran would solve a number of problems: The Afghanistan war would be much, much easier; Iraq would be more manageable; and prospects for Middle East peace would be energized. As Ms. Albright said, there are useful alliances with far less democratic, far more Islamic countries that are far less capable of changing for the better - notably, Saudi Arabia.

Most of the objection to this scenario, of course, is based on our belief that Iran is developing a nuclear weapon. But that, too, is almost ready to vanish into vapour. Our most authoritative source of information about Iran's nuclear program is the 2007 U.S. National Intelligence Estimate, which stated categorically, based on voluminous sources, that Iran had abandoned its nuclear-weapons program in 2003. Intelligence officials acknowledge openly that the past two years have not added a single new piece of information to that assessment.

It was reported this week, based on a new IAEA report, that Iran has produced "enough low-enriched, reactor-grade uranium to make a bomb." This, as former Los Alamos National Laboratory scientist Cheryl Rofer has carefully documented, is scientific nonsense: Yes, that uranium contains enough U-235 to make a bomb. To get it out, you would need to kick all the inspectors out of the country, reconfigure thousands of closely watched centrifuges and engage in years of enrichment.

It was physicist Werner Heisenberg who found that the act of observing can affect the nature of the thing being observed. It is likely that simply by looking at Iran as a threat, we've made it one. Look again, and it might change.
There are still forces in the United States and especially Israel that would bomb Iran in a heartbeat. You can spot them when they distort Iran's actual weapon-making capacity, spinning half truths and infusing fear. Fortunately there seems to be a new American administration that sees Iran as a possible opportunity, not an inevitable adversary.

Food for Thought - From MLK

We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time ... We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is deaf to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residue of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words:
"Too late."
- Martin Luther King

PTSD Anyone?

PTSD or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a well recognized affliction common in soldiers returning from tours of combat abroad. Our militaries look for signs of it and try to treat PTSD victims. The Vietnam aftermath showed what happens when PTSD is left untreated.

Switch now to Guantanamo where the US government faces the difficult challenge of releasing detainees swept up years ago but against whom the American military authorities have no case. You have people who were swept off the streets and flown halfway around the world to undergo years of psychological and physical manipulation, even torture.

America is manufacturing its own, "made in Gitmo" terrorists. The Washington Post has a story of one of these, a Kuwaiti named Abdallah Al-Ajmi, who spent four years at Guantanamo before being sent home.

...U.S. government officials were deeply disappointed -- they had hoped that Kuwait, an American ally, would find a way to detain Ajmi for years -- but they refrained from any public criticism. At the very least, the officials figured, Kuwaiti authorities would keep a close watch on him. And they expected Ajmi to move on, to put his Guantanamo experience behind him, to get a job and settle down after his time in one of the toughest prisons on the planet.

Ajmi chose a different path. Last March, he drove a truck packed with explosives onto an Iraqi army base outside Mosul, killing 13 Iraqi soldiers and himself. It was the denouement of a nihilistic descent that his lawyers and family believe commenced at Guantanamo.

When Ajmi returned to Kuwait, "he was a ticking time bomb," said Mansur Saleh al-Ajmi, one of his younger brothers.

"Before he went to Afghanistan, he was a normal teenager. He spun the car around in circles. He smoked. People liked him," Mansur said. "After he came back from Guantanamo, he seemed like a completely different person. He stared all the time. You could not have a normal conversation with him. . . . It seemed as if his brain had been washed."

...When Thomas Wilner [Ajmi's Gitmo lawyer] learned that his client had become a suicide bomber, he said he felt physically ill. He thought of the victims, and he thought of Ajmi. "Here was this poor, dumb kid -- I really don't think he was a bad kid -- who was thrown into a hellhole of a prison and who went mad," he said. "Should we really be surprised that somebody we treated this way would become radicalized, would become crazy?"

Curiously absent from the American commentary is any suggestion that the US should give inmates psychological screening and, where necessary, treatment before they're returned to their homelands. It's a horrible Catch-22. Hold them to treat them for PSTD or other mental maladies and you're essentially admitting that you've tortured them out of their minds. Ignore reality and release them and you're unleashing several that you've conditioned to retaliate violently. This is a "lose-lose" situation for America, and for the detainees.

Touch Wood - Canadian Consumer Confidence Climbs

CBC News reports that the latest Harris-Decima poll shows Canadian consumer confidence in an upswing.

27 per cent of respondents said they expect to be better off in 2010 compared to just 13 per cent who expect 2010 to be worse. 41% said now is a good time for major purchases.

With Canada among the countries least impacted by the global meltdown, it seems logical that our people would be more optimistic about the future. Our optimism may be misplaced but it's a welcome break from the fiscal gloom and doom anyway.

A Force Someone Might Just Harness

Protest, discontent, rage. Around the world, ordinary people are taking to the streets to protest the global meltdown. They're angry at their governments, they're furious at their financial institutions and they're carrying a rage that breaks out in mass demonstrations.

An angry crowd of 100,000 marched in Dublin over the weekend. Similar scenes have taken place in Greece, France, even China. The Guardian reports that British police are getting ready for their own large-scale riots:

Britain's most senior police officer with responsibility for public order raised the spectre of a return of the riots of the 1980s, with people who have lost their jobs, homes or savings becoming "footsoldiers" in a wave of potentially violent mass protests.

Superintendent David Hartshorn, who heads the Metropolitan police's public order branch, told the Guardian that middle-class individuals who would never have considered joining demonstrations may now seek to vent their anger through protests this year.

He said that banks, particularly those that still pay large bonuses despite receiving billions in taxpayer money, had become "viable targets". So too had the headquarters of multinational companies and other financial institutions in the City which are being blamed for the financial crisis.

The police intelligence service warns that the coming crop of protestors don't merely want their anger heard, they'll ensure it's felt. The police claim "known activists" are moving in to agitate the protestors and the police are likewise gearing up to suppress unruly mobs.

All of this should be manna from heaven for the left. It'll be interesting to see if left wing parties find a way to harness the force of protest to revitalize themselves and shift the political centre.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

100 Years Later - The Silver Dart Flies Again

If all goes well, a handbuilt replica of Alexander Graham Bell's Silver Dart will mark the centennial of powered flight in Canada with a short hop over Baddeck Bay, Nova Scotia.

The replica Silver Dart was the brainchild of a bunch of aviation buffs from the Welland area. They're a terrific story in their own right. I've known one of them since the 60's, a friend of my father's.

These fellows, who include a retired 747 captain, are recreational flyers who own their own hangar in which they store their small fleet of vintage and homebuilt aircraft. It's been their habit every now and then to fuel up their planes and take off on trips to places like Alaska or Florida.

To build the Silver Dart replica these guys created the Aerial Experiment Association. They've got a web site that explains what they had to do to make the Silver Dart centennial flight a reality.

Final Exams for America's Ailing MegaBanks

America's major banks - including CitiBank and Bank of America - are being scrutinized this week by Washington regulators to determine if they're beyond saving. From the New York Times:

These reviews of the banks’ books, known as “stress tests,” are heightening a dilemma for Obama aides about how candid they should be about the health of banks like Citigroup and Bank of America. The tests are expected to take several weeks.

Bank shares were pummeled last week, partly because of rumors that the government might
nationalize some of the banks. Officials consider many of the top 20 banks “too big to fail.”

Still, the big banks say they remain relatively healthy and that, with time and support from the government, they will regain their footing. But many economists, Wall Street analysts and even some bank executives contend that some of the banks are already effectively insolvent.

NYT columnist Paul Krugman says the Obama administration needs to find the courage to nationalize the big banks, what he calls "zombie banks" unable to provide credit to the US economy.

The case for nationalization rests on three observations.

First, some major banks are dangerously close to the edge — in fact, they would have failed already if investors didn’t expect the government to rescue them if necessary.

Second, banks must be rescued. The collapse of Lehman Brothers almost destroyed the world financial system, and we can’t risk letting much bigger institutions like Citigroup or Bank of America implode.

Third, while banks must be rescued, the U.S. government can’t afford, fiscally or politically, to bestow huge gifts on bank shareholders.
Let’s be concrete here. There’s a reasonable chance — not a certainty — that Citi and BofA, together, will lose hundreds of billions over the next few years. And their capital, the excess of their assets over their liabilities, isn’t remotely large enough to cover those potential losses.

...But here’s the thing: the funds needed to bring these banks fully back to life would greatly exceed what they’re currently worth. Citi and BofA have a combined market value of less than $30 billion, and even that value is mainly if not entirely based on the hope that stockholders will get a piece of a government handout. And if it’s basically putting up all the money, the government should get ownership in return.

National Geographic Slams Tar Sands

This isn't going to help Tar Sands fans in Calgary or Ottawa. The march edition of National Geographic will have a photo spread of the Athabasca Tar Sands. According to CanWest, the feature will include several pictures of Athabasca's enormous black tailing ponds.

The Alberta government is - on what has become a regular basis - in a pitched struggle with environmentalists and the media over control of the thorny climate change issue.
And the politics surrounding the oilsands - and the world's understanding of Alberta's oil reserves - may define the current Alberta government's time in power.

Earlier this week, Premier Ed Stelmach said comments that Alberta has the dirtiest oil on earth are ``most unfortunate. It's obviously disconcerting, but that's part of the misinformation that continues to roll out quite often from self-interest groups, painting Alberta and the country of Canada with a picture like that.''

But Simon Dyer, oilsands program director for the Pembina Institute, an environmental think-tank, said from the Stelmach's government's point of view, ``there still seems to be the perception that this is a public relations battle. ''

Dyer added, ``industry and government need to take responsibility for the environmental performance of the oilsands.''

After years of promising site remediation and environmental clean ups, especially the repeated promise of carbon sequestration, people are beginning to call Alberta's and Ottawa's bluff - and finding they're holding losing hands. It was good while it lasted but it's finally put up or shut up time for the Tar Sands.

What Does "Progressive" Mean to Michael Ignatieff?

I've been pretty forthcoming in my criticisms of interim Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff. I've been disappointed in his endorsement of the illegal war on Iraq after 9/11. I've felt really let down that a Liberal leader could take such an unbalanced, one-sided position on the Israeli-Palestinian problem, tantamount absolution for all and any Israeli excesses. I've been troubled by his contradictory support of the Athabasca Tar Sands and his apparent lack of understanding of the environmental dimensions of that catastrophe. I've been worried by this nagging sense that the interim Liberal leader will pander for votes.

Several months ago I read Mr. Ignatieff's self-description as "progressive" yet what I've seen in him so far has been bereft of anything progressive and disturbingly close to neo-conservative.

But could I be wrong? Is there something genuinely liberal about the interim Liberal leader, something unquestionably progressive? I'm looking for more than just a little shiny bauble here or there. Is Michael Ignatieff truly liberal? Is he truly progressive? Is he really in the right party?

What do you think? All supporters and defenders of Michael Ignatieff, here's your chance to come to his aid.

A Nice Pat on the Back for Canada

According to the National Toast, flagship of the doomed CanWest empire, fiscally at least, Canada is being heralded by Western nations, particularly the US, as a paragon of virtue.

Canada has also become a useful proxy for officials in the Obama administration that hold the country up as a model of how "regulation can work."
Paul Volcker, a White House adviser and former chairman of the Federal Reserve, this week sketched out a vision for the future of the banking system that would look "more like the Canadian system than it does the American system."

President Barack Obama's campaign manager, David Plouffe, also expressed a broad affinity for Canadian ethos -- ranging from the financial to the health-care system--during a recent stopover that he described as a "warming up for the visit of the President."

It's great to watch Harper's clown car cabinet try to bask in Paul Martin's sunshine knowing, had Canada suffered the setback of a Harper majority three years ago, we too would have been beset with all the fallout of American-style financial deregulation. The credit Harper is claiming today exists only because the Libs and NDP succeeded in holding his Conservatives at bay.

The Rebirth of Populism

Rachel Maddow and Bill Maher and 100,000 Dubliners may just be right. We may be about to witness the restoration of populism.

The Dubliners turned out in an angry protest over inadequacies in their government's stimulus initiative. The comments reported in The Guardian and other papers suggested a depth of anger that won't be going away soon, the fuel to drive change.

Give white and blue-collar Americans a chance to let the reality of what's hit them sink in and they too might come to see the economic elite for what they have wrought on working Americans. Big Business, Big Capital has left the United States in tatters and it was all through a toxic brew of greed and incompetence.

The factories of wealth raked in trillions of dollars through cannibalizing America's industrial base and flooding world markets with bad paper. Right wing news organizations ran interference for them, distracting the working classes with xenophobic anger and fears of terrorism. What happens if blue and white-collar Americans discover that they were indeed terrorized - from within? What fate awaits the oligarchs if the American people throw off their blankets of fear?

I'd bet that the populist revolution in the United States will break out when their government moves to "reform" Social Security. Having saddled working America with two, likely three-trillion dollars in debt on stimulus spending and bailing out Wall Street and American banks, it's going to take a lot of brass to stare down those workers and tell them the government can't afford to honour its Social Security promise to them.

That pitch falls apart as soon as someone asks "why?" The only reason why is that the federal government has, for decades, stolen the money working Americans entrusted to it for their retirement. It simply appropriated each year's Social Security surplus, money that was supposed to be safely invested to grow the fund necessary for the wave of Baby Boomer retirees. It siphoned off much of that surplus and wrote IOUs in exchange. Remember Bush talking about a file cabinet full of worthless IOUs?

What if working class America stomped its collective foot and demanded "government of the people, by the people and for the people," the deal enshrined in Lincoln's Gettysburg Address? My, my, my - the possibilities are endless.

Americans have a rich history of populism marked by the rise of the Progressives in the late 1800s through the 1920s. It was a democratic balancing, a movement to set right the excesses of the oligarchs, to reclaim political power for the public.

Keeping Joe Lunchpail in line hasn't been easy but it's been accomplished by feeding him the lie that progressivism = liberalism = socialism = communism = godless political slavery. It's a powerful lie but a lie nonetheless. It's a lie that's going to become harder to sustain. Once working Americans come to see it as a lie and realize how it's been used against them it must just spark a counter-offensive in the class war that's been quietly waged on working America going back to the Reagan years.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Foot Connects

Need proof that academics can be as craven as industrialists? Check out this link posted at Foot's:

Obama and Israel, a Strained Friendship?

I don't buy "biblical inerrancy," the strange notion that every word in the bible is the literal Word of God. The Bible, whatever else it may be, is a book written by a bunch of very mortal human beings a long, long time ago reflecting a very early understanding of the world and deities.

In his book American Fascists, Chris Hedges utterly dismantles the notion of biblical inerrancy as patently false given the numerous contradictions in its text and something we only chose to rely on when it suits us:

A literal reading of the Bible means re institution of slavery coupled with the understanding that the slavemaster has the right to beat his slave without mercy since "the slave is his money" (Exodus 21:21). Children who strike or curse a parent are to be executed (Exodus 21:15, 17). Those who pay homage to another god "shall be utterly destroyed" (Exodus 22:20). Menstruating women are to be considered unclean, and all they touch while menstruating becomes unclean (Leviticus 15:19-32). The blind, the lame, those with mutilated faces, those who are hunchbacks or dwarfs and those with itching diseases or scabs or crushed testicles cannot become priests (Leviticus 24:16). And "if the spirit of jealousy" comes upon a man, the high priest can order the jealous man's wife to drink "the water of bitterness." If she dies, it is proof of her guilt; if she survives, of her innocence (Numbers 5:11-31). Women, throughout the Bible, are subservient to men, often without legal rights, and men are free to sell their daughters into sexual bondage (Exodus 21:7-11).

But one little bit of lunacy we cling to in modern geopolitics is the fantastic notion that God bequeathed the "land of Israel" to the Israelites in perpetuity. If you believe that (and so many do) you should rush home, put your wife in her place, sell your daughters, beat your slaves and execute that pesky kid who won't get off the X-Box.

This little fantasy got a free ride during the Bush-era, the Era of Darkness, but it's turning into jello now that Obama has taken the reins. Asia Times Online reports that storm clouds are gathering between the US and Israel:

Iran, with which President Barack Obama has pledged to engage in a "constructive dialogue", and the future of its nuclear program will no doubt be the greatest source of tension between the two allies. The new president's commitment to achieving real progress on a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict may also provoke serious friction. This will particularly be the case should a reunified Arab League launch a major new push for the adoption of its 2002 peace plan, which provides for Arab recognition of Israel in return for the latter's withdrawal from all occupied Arab lands.

Last week's election produced a clear majority for right-wing parties led by the Likud Party of former prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who has repeatedly declared his opposition to a settlement freeze, territorial concessions and the creation of a viable Palestinian state.

Obama and his Middle East Special Envoy George Mitchell may indeed be willing to exert pressure on Israel - among other things, by tabling their own views about a final peace agreement and how precisely it might be achieved - especially if ongoing Arab efforts to reconcile Hamas and Fatah in a new coalition government succeed.

If all goes well on that front, the Arab League, fortified by a developing rapprochement between Syria and Saudi Arabia, could announce the latest version of its 2002 peace plan at next month's summit in Doha, according to Marc Lynch, a George Washington University specialist on Arab politics.

"If you have a unified Palestinian government and a unified Arab move for peace," added Daniel Levy, a former Israeli peace negotiator, "then it's much more likely that Obama will step up his own efforts - ideally, working with an Israeli government that's ready to go along with a serious peace process, but, if not, being willing to make his disagreement [with that government] known."

The result could be a serious test between the next Israeli government and its influential US advocates. The Obama administration clearly believes that real progress toward resolving the 60-year-old conflict is critical both to restoring Washington's credibility among the Arab states and curbing the further radicalization of the region's population - particularly in the wake of Israel's recent military offensive in Gaza.